OTTAWA -- Canada's cable-TV operators seem to have
dodged a bullet. The Sept. 1 deadline has past for the rollout four Canadian cable TV
channels -- known as the "Four Orphans" -- and so far the Canadian
Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regulator has not ordered the
operators to make room for them on the analog band.
Operators guaranteed Star TV, Talk TV and Canadian Learning
Television (CLT) space on their digital band, avoiding an order to put them on more
precious analog channels. As a result, Star and CLT were expected to be available last
week to those Canadian cable subscribers with digital set-top boxes. Meanwhile, Talk TV
will be available on digital when it launches in about a year.
Under the CRTC's rules, these channels did not have to
go on digital allocations, and could have demanded analog carriage. However, the three
networks seemed content not to rock the boat with cable operators, presumably in order to
ensure an amicable long-term relationship.
However, the same cannot be said for Report on Business
Although ROBTv is currently being previewed on analog on
Rogers Cablesystems Ltd., Shaw Communications Inc. and Cogeco Cable Inc., the network has
not signed a distribution deal with any of the MSOs. As a result, it retains the ability
to push for analog carriage, if it so desires.
Worse yet, ROBTv has only agreed to a one-month free
preview, said Harris Boyd, the Canadian Cable Television Association's vice president
of industry affairs. To say the least, this poses big problems for cable operators.
"You can't possibly get a deal, print the materials, get them out to the
customers and sign them all up in four weeks," he said. "[That's]
impossible to do: It should be four months, which is what we'd like to have."
As if this weren't enough, the CRTC has ordered major
Canadian cable operators to carry the Aboriginal People's Television Network for
free. However, the native-peoples-oriented channel will cost systems 10 cents per month,
per subscriber. This means that the Canadian cable-TV industry will essentially underwrite
the channel, even though its expected audience is marginal.